teleworker at desk (elenabsl/Shutterstock.com)

COMMENTARY

Telework capabilities set stage for truly mobile DOD workforce

The Pentagon and military services have made huge strides in expanding the Defense Department’s network and telework capabilities to accommodate the requirements of millions of employees working from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

By mid-April, 4 million DOD and military workers were working remotely. That included 60% of the staff at the Pentagon, and a significant portion of the Air Force’s approximately 685,000-person workforce, Air Force Lt. Gen. B.J. Shwedo, the Joint Staff’s CIO and director for command, control, communications, computers and cyber, said at the time.

Some of the infrastructure and tools put in place to support the rise of telework will remain intact long after the COVID-19 pandemic subsides, according to DOD CIO Dana Deasy.  Now, it appears the department will continue to maximize teleworking as the DOD and military services move through a phased approach for reopening.

Not all of the DOD and military components were prepared for a sudden transition to mass telework, and the pace, speed and scale at which the DOD and industry partners ramped up network capacity and deployed collaboration solutions for the workforce is commendable. Such network and infrastructure upgrades can take months, and in some cases, years to complete.

Some military components had to deal with laptop shortages and an inability to secure network connections at scale as IT infrastructure teams worked to spin up telework capacity. Many civilian and defense agencies did not have enough virtual private network (VPN) capacity to allow hundreds of thousands of remote workers to securely access agency networks and IT resources.

In addition to network capacity, defense agencies needed collaboration solutions for voice, video and content sharing services to allow the large, worldwide defense workforce to communicate wherever they might be located.  A unified communications (UC) solution powered by a hybrid cloud could seamlessly integrate hundreds of desktop apps and legacy systems across diverse agencies to improve mission readiness.

Overcoming voice and video challenges

Voice capability has been difficult for some military services to provide remote workers. Part of the challenge over the past decade is cultural as the workforce transitions from using desktop telephone systems to soft-client phones.  Moreover, layering voice and video services on VPNs with connectivity issues can cause performance degradation.  Slow email response and file download are frustrating, but adding voice and video services can cause even more latency that mars the customer experience.

However, there are viable ways to extend voice and collaboration services to workers at home, using modern UC and voice-over-internet protocol platforms. The build-up of telework capacity should be seen from the wider lenses of digital transformation, which is critical to maintaining military readiness.  With that perspective in mind, the DOD must invest in UC modernization to ensure that its operations – from military leaders on foreign battlefields and doctors in military hospitals to vendors who deliver supplies and services to military bases around the globe, and now the remote worker – can effectively and securely communicate and collaborate on any device, from any place, at any time.

To accomplish those goals, DOD leaders should:

  1. Focus on both employee productivity and customer experience. Improve productivity and efficiency by optimizing the use of communications technologies, expanding digital communications alternatives and training employees on the tools.
  2. Help employees use UC effectively. Embed communications directly into business processes for improving both employee efficiency and customer experience.
  3. Keep the human touch. Design technology-enhanced customer experiences by using automation as an enabler, not an obstacle, to connect with a live specialist when needed.
  4. Integrate the back office with the front office. Transform customer interactions by connecting internal and external processes and eliminating service silos.
  5. Do not forget about the basics when transforming the customer experience. Leverage technology to facilitate an exceptional customer experience delivering on fundamental satisfaction drivers such as quick issue resolution and connection to knowledgeable, empowered service personnel.

The stage is now set for DOD to build a true mobile workforce.  Teleworking is an intermediate step to a fully mobile workforce where employees perform their tasks on the go from cellular phones or laptops on a carrier network, 5G or otherwise.  To maintain readiness, the military requires modern communications environments to connect joint and coalition forces, as well as support internal organizations and service providers for effective collaboration.

About the Author

Jerry Dotson is vice president, public sector, with Avaya.

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